The South Dakota state motto, Under God the people rule, seems fitting for such a beautiful and independent state. We had the good fortune to spend five days there on vacation recently and couldn’t get over the amazing scenery and how nice the people of South Dakota are.
Before we left, we asked friends who’d been there before for advice on things to visit. The itinerary we chose turned out to be ideal and the last week of September, first week of October happened to be peak season for the fall leaves on the western side of the state.
Monday: Drove 8 hours from Wisconsin to Mitchell, South Dakota. Toured the Corn Palace, which was worth the stop. It’s free to tour and we were able to watch varsity girls volleyball, which was a treat since sports have been cancelled for the most part this fall in our state. Had a nice meal at Whiskey Creek Woodfire Grill in Mitchell that evening.
Tuesday: Drove to the western part of South Dakota, about 278 miles, but at 80 mph, it goes fast. On the way there we stopped at Wall Drug. Didn’t buy anything but just wanted to check out the city of Wall and walk through some of their shops. On the way to The Badlands we came to a little stop that featured super cute prairie dogs. You could visit and take pictures for no cost.
The Badlands is a definite must-see when you’re in South Dakota. There’s a loop to drive through them where you can see the desert-like terrain and the rock formations. Lots of spots to hike but you’re advised to stay on the path and keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes.
The crème de la crème in South Dakota is Mount Rushmore. It’s only $10 to park your car in the lot and walk up closer to the monument and hike on the Presidential Trail. This is a testament to the adage, “What the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.” It’s amazing how Gutzon Borglum’s vision was brought to life and since that time, millions of people have viewed his artwork.
Crazy Horse was next. This is something that you can view from the highway for free. We paid the $12 each to go to the visitor’s center and learn more about this unfinished monument to the Oglala Sioux chief Crazy Horse, which, at the rate they’re going (only his head and arm are finished) may take another 50 years to complete. That being said, it is worth seeing.
We stopped at the serene Horse Thief Lake and found a way to hike around it (which meant going through a campground, but it was closed for the year, so we didn’t disturb anyone). If we were into camping, this would definitely be a spot we’d go back to and camp sometime.
Dinner Tuesday night was at the Firehouse Brewing Co. in Rapid City. The building is a vintage firehouse and full of firefighting memorabilia. The Gorgonzola Ale Soup (beer cheese) was excellent, some of the best I’ve ever had.
Wednesday: We took off early to drive Needles Highway. The scenery is gorgeous. There are several stone arches that you drive through that are a tight fit for busses and RVs but everyone made it through in one piece. Sylvan Lake is just off Hwy. 87. It was breath-taking. You can easily hike around the lake and see it from all angles.
Custer State Park is nestled in The Black Hills and is amazing. You drive through the park surrounded by wildlife, including bison, deer, and coyotes. While we saw random bison here and there, the majority of the herd had been rounded up for an annual health check and were contained in one area off the beaten path, but worth the trip down the dirt roads to see all of them.
We stopped in other cities that day including Keystone (Carrie Ingalls info at their museum, but we didn’t stop in), Hill City (home of the Prairie Berry Winery and the tasty Red Ass Rhubarb wine, which can be purchased cheaper there than other outlets), Lead and Deadwood, which is the 1800’s version of Las Vegas, with casinos, bars and shopping areas lining the street. With its close vicinity to Sturgis that holds an annual biker rally, there was no hiding their political allegiance.
Thursday: Drove from Rapid City to De Smet, a town dedicated to the remembrance of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you’re a Little House on the Prairie fan, this town is worth visiting. There are all sorts of buildings and spots where Laura lived or frequented. We chose to do a self-guided driving tour, using a map provided at the visitor center.
That night we stayed in Sioux Falls. I’ve known about this town for years but never knew it got its name from the falls in the middle of the city. Falls Park was stunning, especially in the glow of the setting sun.
Friday: made the trek back home with a stop at the Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix of Peace Shrine in Necedah. What a surprise South Dakota turned out to be for us. It’s remarkably pretty, especially on the western side of the state, the people were some of the friendliest that we’ve met on our travels, and there is so much to offer for tourists. It was definitely worth the drive. And, since the temps hit the mid-70s with sun while we were there, compared to rainy and 50s back home, it turned out to be the perfect time to see the state. This is a trip we’ll always cherish!